I’m not a particularly religious person, but there have been times when, sitting the cool, darkened, Frankincense-scented silence of a church, I have instinctively understood why a person might choose to opt for a life of contemplation within a convent, seminary, ashram, or the like. In these moments, I consider what it might be like to turn one’s back on the often-uphill climb of everyday life, with its bills, bosses, and buses, its exhausting search for a soulmate to partner up with, its grocery shopping and credit scores and performance reviews, its dog shit and mortgage lenders, and give it all up for a small room with a chair and a bed, a simple schedule of prayer and housekeeping, some peace and quiet from the endless buzz and noise of the secular world.
There is an invisible, inviolable wall between the world outside the doors, with all its worries and countless petty annoyances, and what feels like a serene simplicity inside, where one need only be concerned with connecting to the Divine. I close my eyes and dream, for a moment, of a life tending roses in a nunnery garden, chopping carrots for a dinner to feed dozens, hours spent slipping beads worn smooth through my fingers, mind still and all other concerns gone, set sail on the ship that was my life outside the walls.
I don’t believe this sentiment unique to the Catholic church. I would wager it’s likely palpable within any religious community that offers the opportunity for sequestering oneself from the pressures and pains of our mundane lives. I can particularly understand why women of eras past would have chosen the convent after a lifetime belonging to a man – father, husband, brother, or son – choosing instead to belong to a long-dead prophet who won’t come bleating for a beer or pork chops or a clean shirt. To be relieved of the chattering demands of family, the crushing poverty and cruelty of the external world, the worries of getting by in those viciously misogynistic times, could prove too alluring to resist.
Of course there is the bloody Jesus thing. The resurrection thing, which I’ve always found problematic. Those power-mad bishops. The corruption of the hierarchy (and I don’t just mean the Vatican; I think pretty much an organized religion – any organization, really – gets pretty grimy at the top) and it’s dirty secrets. The inequality of the sexes. The working one’s fingers to the bone for nothing, the ripe potential for exploitation. So, yeah, there’s that.
And I know I’ve already got too much skin in this game, am much too of this world, to turn my back on it. It makes me tired and often it makes me cry, but I’m in. So I wrap up my grandmother’s rosary, light a candle and place it as close to any status of the Virgin Mary as I can find, and I walk out of the quiet dark and back into the chaos, the noise, the everyday search and destroy missions of this life.